The Jharia coal fields in the Indian state of Jharkhand are among the largest in Asia. On an area of 280 square kilometers, coal is extracted here in open pit mining. It is the land of blackened faces. A poisonous land. For over 100 years, the toxic gases sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide have been rising here from countless underground fires. Air and drinking water are polluted, asthma, tuberculosis and skin diseases are widespread.
Nevertheless, people continue to endure it here, even moving here in search of work. And children too have to work in the open mines, hauling stones.
In the faces of these children, Indian photographer Supratim Bhattacharjee has captured all their misery: horror, exhaustion, destruction. Scenes that could have sprung from a dystopian movie; it is hard to forget these faces.
Their parents are mostly illiterate. The wages in the often illegally operated mines on the edge of the large coal fields, the equivalent of one to two US dollars per day, are so low that even four, five or six-year-olds are forced to work. Many girls and boys are malnourished and don’t attend school.
Photographer: Supratim Bhattacharjee, India
Supratim Bhattacharjee was born in 1983 in Boraipur near Calcutta and worked mostly for film productions before becoming a photographer. The focus of his work is environmental and human rights issues. He has filed reports from Bangladesh and Nepal, but his main concern is the socio-economic situation in his home country, to which he devotes long-term projects. It not only hurt him to see the children of Jharia, Bhattacharjee writes, but he was “literally shocked”.